Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was released from prison last summer after serving 16 months for accepting bribes and obstructing justice, pummels his opponents in a forthcoming autobiography, according to excerpts published Thursday in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he charges, spread conspiracy theories about him and used the 2006 Lebanon War, over which Olmert presided, to bring down his government, organizing fake demonstrations against him by army reservists and “inciting and goading” bereaved parents to protest against him.
He vilifies the Netanyahu couple — currently the focus of several corruption probes — for spending amounts “never seen before” at the prime minister’s official residence, and for “the waste, the hedonism, and the contempt for minimal standards of modesty and restraint” that he claims “are crying out to the heavens.”
In September, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Sara Netanyahu he intended to indict her for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($104,000) of public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses. The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the prime minister’s residence. No indictment has been issued as yet, though.
Olmert is even contemptuous of Benjamin Netanyahu’s neatly coiffed hair and physical gestures: “A bit of purple in the hair, another bit of weave, a little glue to stop the hair blowing in the wind, a smile and hand movements that have been practiced in front of the mirror dozens of times,” he mocks.
On Sara Netanyahu’s tendency to hype up her “glorious contribution” as a psychologist to Jerusalem’s children, he says that having had her inducted into the psychological service while he was mayor of Jerusalem, and knowing quite a lot about her, he will not publish any “embarrassing things.”
“Suffice to say that for the good of Jerusalem’s children, Ms. Netanyahu hardly ever shows up for work,” he says.
Turning the spotlight to Shula Zaken, his longtime bureau chief and confidante who ended up testifying against him as part of a plea bargain that earned her a reduced sentence, Olmert asserts that she probably took bribes beyond the gifts she was convicted of receiving illicitly in the massive Jerusalem real estate corruption case for which he was sent to prison.
Zaken was sentenced to 11 months in jail, serving a term that the parole board subsequently cut by a third due to good behavior.
Denying that he had ever tried to stop her from testifying against him (despite his admission to the contrary as part of his own plea bargain) Olmert refutes what was once the widespread view that Zaken had sacrificed her life for him through dogged loyalty.
“To describe this relationship in terms of her self-sacrifice, and ignore the fact that, because of me, she turned from a junior typist in a middling legal office to assistant to the prime minister, belies the truth,” he says.
Olmert, who reportedly wrote the book by hand in a cell he shared with two other men convicted in the Holyland affair, also reflects on the Second Lebanon War, which saw Israel mount a ground invasion of southern Lebanon on his watch after the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others in a cross-border attack.
Olmert admits “not a few failures,” quoting from a speech he delivered to the Knesset after a ceasefire came into force in which he assumed responsibility for all the failures. In an apparent reference to Netanyahu’s behavior after the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, he writes, “I was responsible then — and have been ever since… I didn’t manipulate, I wasn’t self-righteous, I didn’t blame anyone else, I didn’t behave like a victim.”
On prison life in Wing 10 of Ramle’s Ma’asiyahu Prison, which underwent a NIS 4 million ($1.17) upgrade before its VIP inmates moved in, Olmert notes that cellmate Dani Dankner, a former Bank Hapoalim board chairman who served 15 months for brokering bribes in the Holyland affair, was the wing’s boss.
“He denies this status, but in practice his authority is accepted with love and respect,” says Olmert. “When there’s duty, I’m there. I don’t want to be an exception. When a hallway has to be washed and my turn comes — I wash. When the vegetables have to be cut finely, I do my best. [I’m] one of them. Without favors and without benefits.”
He reveals that the prison wing was locked at 8:30 p.m. each night, and the cell doors were locked from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following morning. Before bed, Dankner would give him and fellow roommate Uri Shitrit a piece of dark chocolate each. Shitrit, a former Jerusalem City Council engineer, was also convicted in the Holyland affair.
In a moment of introspection, Olmert says, “I ask myself again and again whether it was all necessary. Was it avoidable? Did I go wrong at some stage in my public career in such a significant way that I invited this massive fall from a position that’s unlike anything else in public life and turned into a prisoner?”
Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, was released from prison on July 2, 2017, after serving 16.5 months of a 19-month sentence for breach of trust and bribery in two separate corruption convictions.
He was the first Israeli prime minister to go to jail.
Last year, police tried to delay Olmert’s parole hearings over fears that he intended to include classified material in his autobiography that related to the bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007.
Israel never officially confirmed that it was responsible for the attack on the reactor in the Deir Ezzor region of Syria, and Israeli media was banned from confirming an Israeli connection.
In another excerpt, Olmert claims that before the 2006 elections, former prime minister Ehud Barak pleaded with him for a place on the Kadima party list, which Olmert headed at the time. Barak had withdrawn from a bid to retake the leadership of the Labor party in late 2005, due to poor poll showings.
“He asked to join Kadima; he actually begged me to put him on the list, even in 20th place, and it was clear that he was looking for a new base from which to try to take off,” Olmert writes. But he decided that taking Barak on would damage Kadima, he says, because the public had not forgiven Barak’s “amazing failure as prime minister.”
In response, Barak called Olmert “a court-certified liar” and slammed Yedioth for publishing Olmert’s claims without first seeking a response from him. In a tweet, he added, “His claim that I asked to unite the Labor Party and Kadima is a lie, just like his claim that he never asked for Shula Zaken’s help.”